Letcher Central High School in Whitesburg had a Bible verse painted in bold letters on the football team’s locker room wall. “But the Lord is with me like a Mighty Warrior,” it read, with attribution to Jeremiah 20:11.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) said it received a complaint from a “concerned area resident” regarding the bible verse and asked Letcher County Public Schools to remove all religious displays in the school district.
“In recognition of the District’s constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, please remove all religious displays from the District immediately,” the FFRF said in a November 2019 letter (pdf) to the school district.
The organization noted that it had also asked the district in October 2019 to a remove a religious reference on a bulletin board at Fleming Neon Middle School that read “Jesus is my savior You cant scare me!” and a “religious message posted on an official District Facebook page.”
Fox News reported that the latter was a prayer for children posted on the Martha Jane Potter Elementary School Facebook page.
The organization claimed in its letter that the Christian-themed displays violated the “basic constitutional prohibition” by making it appear as if the district “prefers religion over non-religion and Christianity over all other faiths.”
In a letter (pdf) to the FFRF, Letcher County Public Schools superintendent Denise Yonts said all of the aforementioned displays had been removed.
“The bulletin board has been replaced, the Facebook post has been removed, and the locker room has been repainted,” Yonts wrote in a letter dated Feb. 21.
First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization, said the district acted too hastily before it was clear whether it had violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“It is unfortunate that the school took such a drastic step before fully vetting the complaint and doing a proper investigation of the background facts,” Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty, told Fox News. “It may be the case that the school committed a First Amendment violation by erasing the messages, but until a full investigation is done, it’s impossible to know the correct legal course.”
In October 2019, the FFRF demanded that a Missouri high school football coach stop praying with players before and after games, despite there being no reported complaints from the school community. As a result, the coach was instructed by a district superintendent to no longer lead or initiate a prayer with students.
Earlier this year, the FFRF complained to a New York school district after a high school biology teacher spoke critically of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and suggested alternatives to the theory, such as creationism, accusing the teacher of “inculcating religion into classroom.”